Why You Should Avoid Using Your Child or Client’s Name!

Mary Barbera Autism ABA

By Mary Barbera, PhD, RN, BCBA-D

I often hear parents say, “When we call Johnny’s name, he doesn’t respond but when he hears his favorite TV show, he comes running!” One of the hallmark symptoms of autism is the child’s failure to respond to his or her own name.

Parents and professionals often overuse a child’s name both in and outside of autism therapy which can cause more problems. It sounds crazy not to use a child’s name, but so often children’s names are paired with “don’t,” “stop” or “no.”

Think about it, if all you heard was, “No, Sally. Stop it. Sally, don’t do that,” you wouldn’t feel a positive connotation to your name, would you? The same is true, if not truer, for children with autism. If a child’s name is constantly said and paired with demands and “no,” they will respond to it negatively, if at all.

Secondly, adding the child’s name can often add unnecessary information to a request or instruction. If you’re looking at the child and already have their attention, you don’t need to say, “Sally, sit down” when “sit down” will perfectly suffice and avoids the pairing the name with a demand.

My recommendation is to avoid saying a child’s name when placing a demand or saying “no.”  Instead, try saving the child’s name for more fun and positive things that they enjoy, in order to create a more positive connection to their name.

For many children, you need to actually teach a child to respond to his name by systematically fading prompts and reinforcement.  But, teaching a child to respond to his name can be tricky! Download this worksheet to learn the steps to teach this important skill.

Want to apply this information immediately to help your child or clients with autism?
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